Cracking the Case against Hydraulic Fracturing
August 3, 2012
The debate over hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") has suffered from an enormous amount of misinformation and misdirection. Broad fears regarding the contamination of groundwater and an increased frequency of earthquakes have sent environmentalists into a frenzied campaign against the technology, but these fears lack merit, says Donovan D. Schafer, a research associate with the Independence Institute.
Regarding fracking's potential for the contamination of underground aquifers and other groundwater sources, the physics of the technological process immediately undermine this claim.
- In most cases, fracking takes place in formations many thousands of feet below sources of drinking water.
- Thus, the belief that fracking can directly cause contamination would requires fracking to create fractures extending thousands of feet upward, through many rock layers, and into freshwater aquifers.
- Fractures, however, have a natural bias to spread outward and not upward; for them to do so would defy well-documented natural tendencies.
The physics of the process illustrate that fracking is not inherently dangerous to groundwater sources. Cases of contamination, however, have been acknowledged as possible. This is because of improper drilling techniques and/or surface spills that are not inherent to the process. Thus, the demonization of fracking itself is misleading and misguided.
Similar criticism can be leveled at the accusation that fracking causes earthquakes.
- The ability of the fracking process to cause or contribute to the incidence of earthquakes is much more limited than many believe: the energy released during the fracking process is small and occurs slowly over time.
- Furthermore, other sources of energy such as hydroelectric dams and nuclear power plants have been shown to contribute to the frequency of earthquakes much more than fracking.
- Finally, the empirical evidence of cases in which fracking directly contributed to earthquakes emphasizes repeatedly that the events in question were extremely small and few in number.
Fracking's association with the causation of earthquakes actually stems from the disposal wells that hold waste material. Drilled with a completely different technique, these wells, yet again, are not inherent to the fracking process. Therefore, the negative consequences associated with disposal wells should not be assigned to fracking itself.
Source: Donovan D. Schafer, "Cracking the Case against Hydraulic Fracturing," Independence Institute, July 2012.
Browse more articles on Environment Issues